The New Yorker Reader: “The Idiot President,” by Daniel Alarcón

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10/02/2008 10:15 AM |

Do you remember the first time?

I do so enjoy stories that involve lengthy descriptions of other, imaginary works of art, where the writer gets to invent freely without having to expend the effort to create, and toy around with the idea of art, and its surrounding circumstances.

Of course, Alarcón’s titular political-theater allegory shoulders heavy symbolic weight in the story — it’s a triangular arrangement of darkly comic, malignant, perpetual power, replaceable servants and, crucially for our narrator, ambivalently/unwittingly complicit proppers-up, and it’s worth thinking about how the metaphor fits, or doesn’t, the trajectory of the narrator.

But Alarcón also roams around in the hyperdiegesis, going off about the history of the theatrical group and its relationship to the alluded-to society of this nameless country, even telling us more than we need to know, for strictly thematic reasons, about the plot of a soap opera the narrator auditions for.

In this, Alarcón reminds me a little of Roberto Bolaño, another South American author (Chilean and peripatetic; Alarcón is Peruvian and lives here) who was interested in art, especially literature, and the culture around art, as a potential parallel universe — he invented writers and literary movements and artistic societies as a way of suggesting social and political truths, but never just stopped there, continuing on to amuse himself and us with inside jokes and hilariously right idiosyncrasies and made a whole other alternate literary world out of it, full of books he would have loved to read (or loved to hate) but would never write himself, like culture was his train set.

In conclusion, I really, really need to read Nazi Literature in the Americas.